Is it Time to Shake the Dust Off My Feet?

During the past few weeks, we have been going door to door to proclaim the gospel to a community made up of Muslims who tend to follow Islam more seriously that the average Muslim living in this general area. While we were going door to door yesterday, a good friend brought up the following passage:

 “As for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:5).

Then my friend asked me, “Based upon Jesus’ teaching in this passage, do you think there is coming a day when we should shake the dust off our feet and leave this area?” I wonder if this question has been considered by other Christians who read the reports of our evangelism efforts. Before answering, I told him that this is a valid question. I told him that I would answer him based upon my understanding of what Jesus was teaching. I also told him that I could be wrong in my interpretation but as of now, I am operating on the basis of my interpretation. Before giving a detailed answer to his question, I wish first to give some general thoughts that relate to this topic.

On several occasions, Christians have asked me whether this ministry was bearing fruit. I suppose that many Christians look at the size of a church and determine by the sheer numbers whether that ministry is bearing fruit. Are there many Christians attending? Is it a growing church? If the fruitfulness of this ministry is based solely on answers to these questions, then the answer would probably be “No” for those who judge ministries or churches this way.

Some judge evangelism ministries by the number of people who “pray the sinner’s prayer.” I don’t tell people to pray a “sinner’s prayer” so I can’t and won’t measure the fruitfulness of this ministry that way. Rather, like the Apostle John, I take joy when I observe people “walking in truth.”

For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 3 & 4).

So, if as a result of the gospel being proclaimed, people believe and follow Jesus (walk in the truth), I consider that ministry of evangelism fruitful, even if it is only one person. If every Christian in the world proclaimed the gospel and as a result, each one had one true convert that walks in the truth, the world would be completely turned upside down for Christ.

Having said this, I must confess that I have often thought how pitiful this ministry must seem to many Christians. Ten or less people attend most of our home church meetings. While preparing for these meetings, there have been occasions when a few words from the Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby floated through my mind about a fictitious character “Father McKenzie” as he prepares a sermon. The lyric reads, “writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear.” This song makes Father McKenzie out to be a lonely, pitiful preacher doing a work that is good for nothing. Perhaps some people think of me in the same way that Father McKenzie is portrayed in this song, Eleanor Rigby.

Many questions might be asked. Am I doing something wrong? Are my evangelism methods biblical? Is there some sin or stronghold in my life that restricts the flowing of God’s grace? Should our house have a steeple on it?  Should we have a church building? Do we need a sign and advertising? Should we have a teen department? (Beginning with the steeple question, I am just being facetious but I think it is good that I still have a sense of humor.)

Now let me attempt to answer the question about the Luke 9:5 passage. There are some passages in the Bible that are more difficult to interpret in a fully conclusive fashion. But for passages like this one, there is usually a main point that is clear. Perhaps Mathews rendition of it gets to that point:

“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14).

While Jesus does say to shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against a city that does not receive the gospel, He starts out by saying “Whoever does not receive you.” So, the shaking of dust does not have to pertain to an entire city. We are to do it as a testimony to any individual who does receive us. Perhaps Jesus conveys the essence of this truth when He says, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). To me, the essential truth that Jesus is conveying is that when people mock the gospel rather than listen with open hearts, we should cease from talking with them. It is because of this principle that I do not debate with people about the gospel because to do so profanes it and empties it of its power in the eyes of those who look on.

But is there a time when we should shake the dust off our feet in regard to an entire city in accordance with Luke 9:5? If there has ever been a community where I thought Luke 9:5 might apply city wide, it would be South Dearborn, the one to which we are currently proclaiming the gospel. If it were not for the fact that the roads and sidewalks are all paved, we would have plenty of occasion to be shaking the dust off our feet. But is that what Jesus wants us to do in regard to South Dearborn? I am not so sure.

Back in Jesus’ day, He sent His disciples out two by two. The fields of harvest were ripe unto harvest. Perhaps the instruction to shake off the dust in regard to entire cities was expeditious for that time. The field to be harvested was the entire world. If a small village did not receive the disciples, then why not move on to the next village. There were endless numbers of villages to visit. The only thing I don’t like about this explanation is that it sounds very pragmatic. But then again, why did many of the disciples remain in Jerusalem after the Jewish leaders began to persecute them? Why didn’t they simply shake the dust off their feet and move to a different city?

At least right now, I am inclined to take away from Luke 9:5 the principle that we should avoid discussing the gospel and arguing with people who mock it. There will always be people who do this in every city across the globe. It seems to me that Paul generally followed this principle. Whenever he came to a city for the first time, he went first to the synagogue to proclaim the gospel. Whenever the Jews rejected it, he rebuked their unbelief and turned to the gentiles. But I am not aware of any entire city against which he shook the dust off his feet. At Lystra, Jews stirred up the entire town against Paul. Rather than shake the dust off his feet, he went right back into the city after the crowds had stoned him and dragged him out of the city.

“But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city” (Acts 14:19-20).

I know I would be tempted to shake the dust off my feet and leave but Paul went right back in there. He also visited it on subsequent travels to that general area.

Based upon this testimony, I am not inclined to quickly shake the dust off my feet in regard to an entire community. When I reflect on other missionary works, I remember that others seem to think this way. For example, Adoniram Judson proclaimed the gospel for several years with only a couple of converts to show for his efforts. Then, he was thrown into a torturous prison for a long time. After being released, his wife and daughter died and he despaired of life for quite a while. After God revived him, he returned to the city that he had proclaimed the gospel for years. This time, thousands of people came looking for him just so they could get their hands on one of his tracts! God was obviously at work there making the gospel come to life in the lives of thousands of people who showed no regard for it years before then.

I also think of John Paton, missionary to the Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Cannibals inhabited these islands. They killed John’s missionary acquaintances and tried to kill him on numerous occasions. If anyone had reason to shake the dust off his feet, he did. These people did the opposite of “receiving John” and his message. But John persisted in trying to reach them with the gospel. Eventually, God caused the life of Jesus to spring up in these people.

In more recent times, a few missionaries were killed by cannibals in Central America. Instead of shaking the dust off their feet and retreating back to the U.S., Elizabeth Elliot, wife of one of the missionaries that was killed and Nate Saint’s sister continued ministering to the tribe that did the killing. Eventually, most of the tribe, including ones that did the killing came to Christ.

Bottom line, I think we should not assume that Luke 9:5 and other like verses teach us to forsake the post to which God has directed us to minister. While we should not cast our pearls before swine, we should continue sowing the gospel seed believing that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Believing this enables us to continue sowing even if and when little of no fruit is apparent. Conversely, if we cease to proclaim it, we show that we must not really believe that the gospel truly is the power of God for salvation to all who believe.



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